Tracing back in time - The history of health care in Rutherford County

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Reforming health care in America has been the top concern for the past several years, which included making it available to the underserved and uninsured Americans.

It seems the Affordable Healthcare Act has accomplished that in the past several months. The grassroots organization, Health Care for America Now, expounds:

“We are deeply grateful to the national and state partners who built this coalition and made possible its success, along with our online and field activists who participated in hundreds of actions. We bring our campaign to a close confident that our partners will continue to work together in the struggle for social and economic justice. While the health care battle continues at a fevered pitch and there is much work to be done, we have accomplished what we set out to do as a coalition: all elements of the Affordable Care Act are underway and benefiting all of us.”

It has been stated that the state of health care in America is the most significant social problem that we face as a society today. Some say that we can breathe a little sigh of relief momentarily, and there are signs of optimism. As we march forward on multiple levels with the debate continuing, we might want to ask some questions for clarity:

1.    Is the stabilization of the health care reforms sustainable?

2.    Are we closer to keeping patient welfare the ultimate goal?

3.    Do we continue to tiptoe through a mind field of healthcare issues?

4.    Are we finding better ways to prioritize health care concerns?

And then there is the big question…

5.     What is making us sick—identifying the health of our population! Is our health impacted by such factors as income, food security, access to affordable housing, physical fitness, early childhood programs and other similar social determinants?

Before the Affordable Health Care Act, nearly half of America, which included nearly 10 million children, was uninsured. Rising health costs have become one of the largest spending areas for both government and the private sector around the world and the United States. Thus, health care concerns still are a top domestic priority.

In 2007as the political debate swelled across the nation, remarks from Alwyn Cassil, director of public affairs for the Center for Studying Health System Change, a nonpartisan research organization framed the sentiments then and continues now.

“A big concern on the part of Americans is the cost of health care and the cost of insurance.”

Many still believe that building better health care must be public and private collaboration. Health care of the society must be a shared initiative between individual communities and government. Community leaders too must address a community’s health care issues proactively. Investing in a community’s healthcare is an investment in the prosperity and vitality of a community. Consequently, healthy citizens mentally, physically, and emotionally are productive citizens. Concern about the well-being of a community becomes a clear barometer of a community’s ideology.

From the beginning when early settlers came to Rutherford County, they brought with them superstitions and practices familiar to the American pioneer. Soon after the formation of Rutherford County in 1803, some of the best trained physicians in America located here. Early practitioners responded to the care needed for the growing population. By 1830, the Medical Society of Tennessee was formed by many local physicians who migrated here. One of the first charter members was Dr. James Maney, a progressive, public-spirited man, and early pioneer who settled and built Oaklands Mansion. Apparently, early on the professionals and citizens of Rutherford County recognized the relationship between a healthy community and its continued prosperity. So by 1900, local medical societies existed to ensure quality health care and promoted ethical medical practices.

In 1885, the Tennessee General Assembly passed a law creating county boards of health. The first report on the health conditions of the county was made by Dr. James B. Murfree in October 1885. This report primarily addressed poor sanitary conditions throughout the area including contaminated drinking water due to a typhoid epidemic.

At the turn of the 20th century, many local concerned citizens began to address public health care. In 1912, Miss Jeannette King, Director of Physical Education at the Middle Tennessee Normal School (now Middle Tennessee State University) with the assistance of local physicians and dentists organized with the first school health program. Soon after World War I, Miss Maude Cloverdale came as a public health nurse with the American Red Cross.

Local practitioners volunteered and extended quality healthcare to the rural areas of the county. It was Miss Maude, driven by the poor health conditions, observed in school age children who called the problem to the attention of S. B. Christy, local Red Cross Chapter president, at the time. Mr. Christy made an application to the Commonwealth Fund of New York for a comprehensive public health program.

The Commonwealth Fund, with the cooperation of the Tennessee Department of Public Health, opened the Child Demonstration of Rutherford County, Jan. 1, 1924 with Dr. Harry S. Mustard as director. This program enabled counties and local health departments to have full-time departments and staff that addressed rural health care.

In January 1929, the Child Health Demonstration officially closed, yet in the meantime the program had morphed into the Rutherford County Health Department. Again, local, concerned citizens encouraged county government to support this effort. The same community leaders under the leadership of S. B. Christy through the efforts of the Commonwealth Fund of New York agreed to erect the community’s first hospital. Plans went forth rather rapidly and the Rutherford Hospital with a capacity of fifty beds was opened in June 1927.

No matter if it was those affected by the cholera epidemic of 1833 or the wounded and battle scarred of the Civil War, addressing health care in Rutherford County involved a concerted effort. Just like those community-centered citizens in our past, it is our time to address continuous, quality community health care. With hard work and team effort in the future, we will identify and solve health care issues in Rutherford County.

It really is about the Golden Rule—“Caring for your neighbor as you do yourself” which Rutherford County from its formative years has addressed. Presently, the Primary Care and Hope Clinic and the Interfaith Dental Clinic are two of those efforts, private non-profit organizations started by concerned citizens and physicians and dentists to address the problem of the uninsured and undeserved residents.


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Gloria Shacklett Christy, Health care
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